John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Julius Malema and South African Politics

by John Campbell
September 28, 2012

South African former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema gestures to his supporters during his court appearance in Polokwane 26/09/2012. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters)


The African National Congress’ (ANC) firebrand outcast Julius Malema has been formally charged with money laundering linked to state contracts in his native Limpopo province, probably the poorest in South Africa. Malema, former leader of the ANC’s Youth League, is a radical voice calling for nationalization of the mines and expropriation of white owned land without compensation. Formerly allies, he and South African president Jacob Zuma are now bitter enemies. The ANC expelled Malema from the party and the youth league in November 2011. However, many–perhaps most–of the youth league members still regard him as their leader. (The youth league is traditionally the most radical part of the ANC.)

The current wave of industrial unrest in the mines is a political boost for Malema. He was the first politician to visit the Marikana mine during the strike, and subsequently addressed a small number of the South African Defense Force on suspension for rioting. Parts of the ANC appear worried about his influence, and whites in the investor class see him as a boogeyman. In the townships, however, he is a hero.

Malema, born only in 1981, has a flamboyant lifestyle characterized by expensive cars, women, and the club scene. Born into poverty, he now has access to nearly limitless resources. The common theory is that his wealth originates in corruption.

In politics, his black populism can be reckless; he has been convicted multiple times for hate speech against whites, and has revived the old liberation chant of “kill the settler, kill the Boer.” Undisciplined, he may well self-destruct—if the ANC and South African establishment do not overreact to him.

Why is he being charged with corruption now? South African commentary ties the charges to his exploitation of mining unrest to advance his political career. The South African judiciary has a reputation of independence. But the prosecutorial authority is often politicized. Malema’s enemies within the ANC may have calculated that he should be brought to court now before the ANC party convention in December, where Zuma will likely face serious opposition to his continued leadership.

Post a Comment 3 Comments

  • Posted by Andrew

    “Undisciplined, he may well self-destruct—if the ANC and South African establishment do not overreact to him.”

    Let’s hope so. Melema’s praise of Mugabe is particularly worrisome.

  • Posted by Mxolisi

    lets all get one thing clear, i am not a malema fan, however this is not about him (malema), but just like the apparthied struggle was not about Nelson Mandela, but that campiegn needed a face for poeple to rally around. Malema happens to be the face around the campiegn of the ecconomic revolution.
    Lest we forget that the fundemental basis of the struggle was around the economic revolution (Liberation), which the same ANC ran away from over 50 years ago, which then gave birth to the PAC, because they advocated for an economic revolution. if jacob zuma decides to kill malema, another face of the same campeign will be born. if malema is guilty of money laundering then jacob zuma is also guilty of letting malema launder money as a form of payment for getting him into office in the POLOKWANE embarassment.

  • Posted by The African Youth

    There is nothing wrong with Malema’s message. It is a truth known by every African in South Africa that the black populace continues to wallow in poverty when the country is being praised as the beacon of Africa.

    Malema is right, there is need to address the social ills plaguing South Africa.

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